London is once again experiencing ongoing riots following protests in November ,2010, over tripling of school tuition and again in March, 2011, when demonstrations of over a half million people erupted in riots to protest 81 billion pounds in public spending cuts. This time, the riot was triggered in Tottenham, the poorest section of London, when Mark Duggan, a black youth who had shot a police officer was allegedly dragged from his taxi and killed gang style by other police officers.
Protests turned into three days of violent riots and looting as cars and buses were hijacked and left burning in the streets and fires broke out in different parts of the city. Dozens of police officers were targeted and injured and dozens of rioters were bloodied. Police cars were quickly smashed and fire brigades and emergency medical services were targeted as well when they attempted to enter the scene of the destruction.
While on the surface, this weekend’s riots in London resembled the 1992 Rodney King riots over police brutality in Los Angeles, several differences in both motives and tactics are noticeable. While the trigger was a perceived grossly excessive police action, the anger that has built up due to social cuts that are felt the most in the poorest of neighborhoods is an underlying cause. A sense of hopelessness is setting in as young black males are experiencing the highest unemployment in the UK due to the downturn. Most recently, their neighborhoods have been impacted by the closing of youth centers due to budget cuts. Interviewees in the midst of the riots are expressing that violence is the only real way to get their message to community leadership.
More ominous for our time is the method used by the rioters and looters. Unlike earlier American riots where demonstrating crowds mulled into disruptive forces that overflowed into sporadic rioting and looting, in Britain, hundreds of youths participated in social media flash mobs using text and twitter to quickly gather in diverse locations for rapid guerilla smashing and looting. At each flashpoint, quickly moving gangs of up to several hundred would assemble, sometimes targeting just one large store for looting and destruction, and just as quickly they would disperse as police arrived, only to reappear elsewhere as their social media dictated.
Britain was temporarily spared a downgrading of her credit rating because of the quick action taken by Parliament to enact austerity measures. These actions have spilled out into the streets of London multiple times now. One outcome of America’s credit downgrade is that we will most likely now be forced to follow suit and enact our own austerity measures. Can we learn how to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on our poorest and most likely affected before simply instituting social cuts that will endanger their communities?
Are we prepared for the newest flash mob use of social media? Do our law enforcement and safety infrastructure agencies have the right tools and training to effectively counteract these social guerrillas? Are our police proactively building community relations and preparing their communities for America’s coming frictions? We have seen in England what will be coming to America, and our most recent Congressionally triggered credit rating decrease is a wakeup call for us to use this brief time to prepare.